Nikki Haley resigns as US ambassador to UN and will leave post in January.
Trump said: “She told me probably six months ago. She said: ‘You know, at the end of the year, at the end of a two-year period, I want to take some time off, I want to take a break.’”
It is unclear why Haley made the announcement before the midterm elections.
She rejected speculation that she was leaving to take a run at the presidency, saying she had no plans to stand in 2020 and would be campaigning for Trump. In her resignation letter, published by the Washington Post, Haley said she was going back to the private sector, though she said she expected to “speak out from time to time on important public policy matters”.
The resignation letter was dated 3 October, the day after Trump appeared at a political rally in Mississippi and mocked Dr Christine Blasey Ford, who had accused Trump’s nominee for the supreme court of sexual assault. Haley has portrayed herself as a defender of women’s rights, though there is no evidence Trump’s derision of Ford was the immediate trigger for her decision.
Both the president and the outgoing envoy heaped praise on each other, to emphasise that she was not leaving on hard terms.
The timing of Haley’s departure caught diplomats at the UN by surprise. She appears not to have given any indication of her intentions to colleagues on the security council.
But few of the diplomats she worked with expected her to stay in the UN role for the full four years of Trump’s presidential term. She was universally seen as a politician using the UN post to burnish her image and bide her time while it served her presidential ambitions.
“I thought she would go after two years, but two years isn’t up. Why would she go before the midterms?” a senior diplomat said.
The diplomat speculated her departure could have been influenced by recent demands for an enquiry into her use of private jets last year provided by a South Carolina businessman, but expressed doubt over whether the allegations were serious enough to trigger an early departure.
Her departure will raise anxiety levels for US allies at the UN. Despite her pointed rhetoric – warning any country who voted against the US that she was “taking names” and making lists of friends and enemies – she acted as a bridge between Trump and the UN-despising Bolton. She succeeded in convincing Trump that the UN served a useful purpose for US national interests.
However, her relative position within the administration had been diminishing since the arrival of Pompeo at the head of the state department. Under Pompeo’s predecessor Rex Tillerson, Haley had a free hand, as Tillerson took a low-key approach to his job and was frequently at odds with Trump, who often ignored him.
Pompeo, by contrast, quickly became the primary spokesman for Trump’s policy, and Haley’s importance faded. Bolton, meanwhile, is said to have clashed with Haley when she tried to defend the UN as an institution. Haley also lost a battle with the White House hardliner Stephen Miller over the administration’s refugee policy.